These days we are managing the wood to support the precious population of hazel dormice that it contains. Since the year 2000, the British population of dormice has fallen by a tragic 50%, and our wood is now part of the National Dormouse Monitoring Programme which is trying to work out what has gone so very wrong and how things can be put right.
Traditionally, dormice are animals of hazel coppice and an understanding of the biology of hazel would be helpful for us to manage our coppices in the most effective way for dormice. At this time of year, flamboyant catkins are dangling from the hazel branches and shivering in the breezes:
These are the male structures of the tree. Every catkin is made up of about two hundred and forty small male flowers, each covered by a triangular bract. Beneath a single bract are four stamen, each with two yellow pollen-producing anthers. Since every anther produces nine thousand grains of pollen, by my reckoning a catkin will therefore produce over seventeen million pollen grains, a number sure to make any hayfever sufferer wince. Once these male flowers open up in the late winter, the pollen is carried off by the wind and, because the trees have no leaves at the moment, it can be freely wafted throughout the tree without impediment.
But hazel is monoecious, having both male and female flowers on the same tree. In the photo above, there is a little bud where the catkins join the branch – this is the female part. The bud contains anything from four to fourteen female flowers, each with two red styles which are the only things that protrude from the bud.
These female flowers can only be pollinated by pollen from a different hazel tree but, once one is, it will develop into a nut to feed the dormice in the late summer. The nuts are produced in a cluster at the site of the female flower bud and the number in the cluster will depend on how many female flowers within the bud got themselves pollinated.
Now that we understand all of this, it will be interesting to watch nut development as the year progresses to see if we can draw conclusions on which trees are producing nuts well and why that is.
Following our concerns that the new pond was unsafe for wildlife with the liner creating slippery edges, some major health and safety improvements have now been made:
There is now a pebble beach at the shallow end and several exit ramps sticking into the water. The green corrugated roofing square is not pretty but does increase the water catchment area of the pond which will help to keep it filled in the summer.
We have recently cleared the squirrel nest out of the tawny owl box but I suppose it was only to be expected that the squirrels would start to rebuild in there again:
Sadly, since the box has been cleared, there haven’t been any further signs of an owl showing interest. There was a tawny down at one of the ponds though:
At the same pond this week there has been a sparrowhawk….
….and the return of the fieldfares that always arrive in the wood in late winter:
Over in the meadows, I realised that the twenty or so nest boxes were yet to be cleared out and this job needed to be done before nesting begins once more. I wonder what calamity resulted in the abandonment of this lovely clutch of eggs?
There were, however, five other bird nests that looked like they had overseen the successful fledging of all their chicks. It is very normal to find fluff from the dogs pink and yellow balls incorporated into the nests here:
One box had a mouse nest in it and so I left it alone:
This next box dangles on a wire three meters up in a hawthorn tree. Although it does sway around a bit, it is very popular and is used by blue tits every year. I found that it did indeed contain an old bird nest but there was now a wood mouse nest on top, complete with the little animal snugly curled up within. I closed this box back up and left it too:
Elsewhere in the meadows there is a brand new 2023 nest under construction and it’s a large one. Magpie nests are robust and are sometimes reused, particularly in urban areas. But the magpies here build a new nest every year, although usually very high up and obscured from our view. Happily, though, we can see this years new-build from the house:
The completed structure will have a domed roof for protection and there will be one or two entrances in. Both birds work on the nest, with the male primarily responsible for the walls and roof and the female for lining the inside with mud.
Other interesting photos from the meadows this week:
A few days ago I noticed that something was going on with the mate of the One-eyed Vixen. He wasn’t opening his left eye properly and in the infrared his fur seemed wet on that side. It is only now that I see him by day, do I realise that he has been injured. Many years ago my cat seemed ill and I took him to the vets, only to eventually discover that he had several pellets in him. My immediate thought now was that this fox had also been shot but, looking closely at other photos, I see that the cut is long and jagged like he ran into barbed wire perhaps.
Infection is always a worry but I am comforted that, now several days on, he still seems alright and long may that continue.
We have builders starting this month, with work expected to take six months. They are demolishing our ancient old garage at the top of the garden and building a new, two-storey one, complete with wildlife tower, rainwater collection system and solar panels. They are also removing the greenhouse which is attached to the house, building a utility room on its footprint and knocking a door through. We have been busy preparing for all this upheaval by clearing out the existing garage, two other sheds and the greenhouse, all of which are going.
As well as this temporary garage, we have also built a small polytunnel to give a home to the tender plants evicted from the greenhouse. The normal pattern of our lives is going to be disrupted for the next few months and no doubt there are many challenges lying ahead, but our eyes are focussed on how good it will all be when it is finished.